Washington Died as He Lived, With Dignity

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - In the end, it wasn't an arrowhead or a musket ball that killed George Washington 200 hundred years ago.

After surviving the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the Whiskey Rebellion, the nation's first president retired to his life as a farmer at Mount Vernon, where he died on December 14, 1799 from a very sore throat at the age of 67.

"He suffocated," Sally McDonough of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association told CNSNews.com. "It was an infection. There was swelling."

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, the oldest nonprofit national preservation organization, was founded in 1853 to restore and maintain Washington's home on the Potomac River just south of the nation's capital. The association will be commemorating Washington's death this week ending with a re-enactment of his funeral on December 18 at Mount Vernon.

Washington's death, though painful and sometimes messy, was not undignified. Despite the efforts of three physicians, Washington succumbed to his illness, most likely caused by bacteria unknown to medical science at that time, but not before he re-wrote his will and freed his slaves.

"I die hard, but I am not afraid to go," Washington reportedly told his bedside attendants.

"He was such a man of integrity and had such character," Daughters of the American Revolution President General Dale Kelly Love told CNSNews.com.

Although his doctors were the best available, state-of-the-art medicine at the end of the 18th century consisted of applying hot plasters to the infected body part and bleeding the patient to remove the "diseased fluids." Germs, or disease causing bacteria, were not discovered until many decades after Washington's death.

In Washington's case, doctors took more than two liters of blood, one-fourth his total supply, from his weakened body. "The common medical practices of the day were performed on him but didn't help," said McDonough. Eventually his throat swelled so much that it cut off his air supply, and Washington died sometime between 10 and 11 pm on Dec. 14.

When he died, Washington had only been retired from public service for less than two years. Although many wanted him to serve a third term as president, and some even wanted to make him king, he declined, warning in his farewell speech "of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart."

"Washington would probably be appalled by the politicians of today," Alexis de Tocqueville Institution President Christian Braunlich told CNSNews.com.

McDonough said Washington always considered himself a farmer, which extensive records that he kept on weather conditions and crop harvests at Mount Vernon confirm.

Others see Washington as the classic citizen-statesman who left his farm to answer his country's call when he was needed.

"Washington established the legacy of the American citizen soldier to whom America owes its freedom," American Legion spokesman Steve Thomas told CNSNews.com.